SWINDON Council has imposed a freeze on recruitment and non-essential expenditure in a bid to break even at the end of 2012/13 and help balance the budget for the next financial year.
But the council leader has admitted frontline services may still be hit.
All non-schools’ vacant posts are frozen unless they have been signed off by the corporate board of top directors, although recruitment can continue without the special approval if a job advert has already been placed.
Alongside this, a further freeze on all “non-essential expenditure”, defined as that which is not vital to the safe delivery of services and member decisions, has been implemented to deter departments from spending their entire budgets and to create some capacity this year to help cash flow and future cost-saving work.
The council also says staff overtime should be minimised and no new engagements or extensions to existing arrangements with consultants, temporary and contract staff should be entered into without the approval of the board.
Coun Rod Bluh, the council leader, said: “We tend to do this about this time every year, partly because you are always in a potential overspend position at this time of the year.
“It’s just a signal to the various departments that we need to be very careful with budgets and we do need to bring the budgets in on track by the end of this year.
“We’re in an overspend situation at the moment but it’s but about £200,000 to £300,000. It’s lower than it has been for a while, mainly because the social care budget is under control at the moment.”
The council originally needed to find savings of about £15m to balance its budget for 2013/14 but this could increase due to a recent Government announcement.
Th grant for authorities which agree to freeze council tax will be cut from the equivalent of a 2.5 per cent tax increase this year to just one per cent next year – and authorities wanting to reject the offer and increase council tax by more than two per cent will have to hold a referendum.
Coun Bluh said the council was a long way forward but there was still a gap it was trying to close through redesigning services, although the challenge was securing the savings quick enough. Teams across the council will shortly be engaged with on proposed changes to some staffing structures.
Coun Bluh said: “When you are looking at identifying savings of £15m-plus, jobs have to be somewhere in the equation because a huge percentage of the council’s budget is salaries.
“Nobody wants to do this. Redundancies are never welcome, we don’t want people out of work, we want people in work, but this is the whole transfer of emphasis between the public and private sectors because of the national deficit.
“But it’s not just a matter of making people redundant, we still have to have a capacity to carry on doing what we do. But at the end of the day, if the money isn’t there we cannot pay people.
“We are trying to maintain services. They may be delivered in a different way but our job is to provide frontline services that are required. “But looking at the financial challenge ahead, I think it’s very difficult to say there’s going to be no effect on frontline services.”